So, how does one get an Apple? Well, Adam got one when a naked lady waltzed up to him and said, “Psssst, want an Apple”, and he became much smarter. The lady that I got mine from in the Apple store was dressed — or, at least, I think she was. My attention was fully riveted on the Apple. So that she could remain the brains of the household, my wife also has one. My dog likes apples, too. But she is more into the round red kind.
So, today, trying to lay off politics for a while – at least until I cease to be upset by the overdose of stupid, lets talk about one of my favorite things — my Apple stuff! Maybe some of you know that most Apple products — iPhones, iPads, etc., are made in a factory owned by a Taiwanese company, Foxconn. You probably knew it was BIG. I’ll bet you didn’t know how big. Allow me to inform you:
Your iPad was made in the city of Shenzhen, China, a city of 13 million people. Foxconn has a factory there which employs 430,000 of those people! How many is that? Glad you asked. On a typical workday there are 3.5 times as many people in that factory as there are in the entire city of Topeka, Kansas. It is slightly more than the population of Cleveland, Ohio.
The Foxconn factory has 20 cafeterias — each with capacity of 10,000 of your closest friends. And I’ll bet I couldn’t get a decent hamburger in any of them. Candle-lit meals are probably frowned on.
There are age regulations but Foxconn does not do any serious checking. It is not uncommon for pre-teens to be working there. There are on-site inspectors but the Foxconn management always know when they are coming and they substitute slightly older workers for the very young. Corruption and collusion between management and the Chinese government is rampant.
The factory floors are typically very quiet. They are vast rooms filled with 20,000-30,000 workers apiece. There is no machinery and there is no talking allowed. When labor costs so little, there is not much reason to install machines to make your iPad.
Now, the American work hour of 60 minutes includes a Facebook break, Twitter break, bathroom break, phone calls, conversation, water cooler, coffee, etc. In Foxconn, 60 minutes of work means 60 minutes of work. Any part of that you didn’t understand? The official work day in China is 8-hours long but the reality is that the typical worker goes for 12-hours at a time. If there is a new gadget coming out, that might be extended to 14-hours. Think about that when the iPad3 comes out next month.
With a manual assembly line, such as Foxconn has, the product only moves as fast as the slowest worker. Hence, the workers are watched closely (by camera). If you are having a bad day, it could get worse — you might suddenly be looking for a new job.
Unions are illegal. Attempting to unionize is punishable by prison.
The very clear and scratch-resistant glass on your iPad is polished by hand using a chemical called Hexane. It evaporates faster than other screen cleaners and, hence, allows the assembly line to move faster. By the way, it is also a neuro-toxin. After a while, the hands of the worker will shake uncontrollably. When they can no longer work – they are treated like used coffee grinds. They are thrown out.
By the way, China may say that they are a Communist country, but these factories are privately owned. As mentioned, Foxconn is a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer — with a huge plant in China. The Foxconn labor practices are probably typical of 19th century American and European Capitalism. This is what Capitalism could be like again if we wanted to get rid of, say, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Unions, National Labor Relations Board, Child Labor Laws, etc. We have EPA, Unions, etc., because starting in the 20th century, our elected representatives looked favorably on the people doing such things. Would you want to go back?
So, when you buy your next iPad, or iPhone, or MacBook Aire, don’t forget that these products were built using labor practices that would be illegal in the United States.
Foxconn will probably not be making the list of “best companies to work for” any time soon. There is no question that things are better now than when the average Chinese worker was picking rice. They do live better and can afford more. Some of you probably remember that there was a rash of suicides at Foxconn a couple of years ago. When it seemed that the Chinese government wasn’t going to investigate, Apple did so and forced some changes in the Foxconn employment practices — such as raising their wages, instituting child care, etc. A lot more could and should be done — but realistically, the only option that Apple or others have is to take their business elsewhere. The initiative is going to have to come from the Chinese government, and it doesn’t look that this will happen any time soon. In Foxconn, they have the goose that laid the golden egg.
By the way, in the unlikely event that you EVER meet a Foxconn worker, you might want to show him/her your iPhone or iPad. Other than the part that they work on, they most likely have never seen the completed product.